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Surcharge opponents put case to ACCC ports section

Meeting coincides with airline complaints over monopoly airport operators


Transport infrastructure operators with preponderant power over access are facing a challenge to their practices, with airlines joining transport and logistics providers in pushing for reforms.

The concurrence of organisation and action occurs in divergent sectors but with relatively comparable targets.

So it is that trade-focused opponents of stevedores’ infrastructure surcharges, in the form of the Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) and the Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA) grouping, have met, as flagged on Tuesday, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), just as the 2017-established Airlines for Australia and New Zealand (A4ANZ) issued a preliminary report, The performance & impact of Australia’s airports since privatisation.

“The meeting with the ACCC went very well,” FTA director Travis Brooks-Garrett tells ATN.

“Specifically it was to provide input into the next ACCC Container Stevedoring Monitoring Report 2018 which is due in October.

“As ATN has previously reported, the Hon. Michael McComack MP’s office said that they will wait until the next ACCC Stevedoring Monitoring Report before they decide on any possible intervention.”

FTA/APSA’s key arguments to the ACCC were:

  • the Vehicle Booking System (VBS) is not a fair or appropriate mechanism for the stevedores to recover costs or increase revenue
  • any cost recovery should occur via the commercial clients of the stevedores ie the shipping lines
  • industry has seen no evidence of improvements to infrastructure that will deliver landside efficiency as a result of the payment of infrastructure levies. Industry is also not aware of any future plans for such infrastructure.
  • container terminal operator pricing should be regulated in the same way that the state government’s regulate wharfage and other prescribed services to protect port users. This is particularly important in a post-port privatisation environment.

While the action of stevedores is complicated for the ACCC, the A4ANZ report is more competition-focused and accuses airports of exploiting their monopoly to make out-sized profits.

“Work undertaken to date identifies that in the absence of a formal threat of imminent regulatory intervention, Australian and New Zealand airports have been exercising market power; to the detriment of airlines, the broader aviation sector, consumers, and the economy,” it argues, while advocating for more regulation and ACCC oversight.

The Australian Airports Association (AAA) rejects the charges pointing to $11.5 billion invested on airport improvements over the past 10 years while not mentioning profits.

The full A4ANZ report can be found here.

The surcharges meeting participants were ACCC airports, post, ports and road reform section director David Cranston, who looks after ports policy for the commission, and three of his team along with APSA chairman Paul Blake, FTA member representative David Scott and FTA founder and chairman Paul Zalai.

“At this point the collaboration between industry bodies is not exclusive,” Brooks-Garrett says when asked whether it would seek to expand,” Brooks-Garrett says.

“We are looking to partner with all of the relevant industry associations who represent port users where there is overwhelming consensus on this issue.”


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